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The Twelve Step programme of recovery is a simple programme for complicated people like me

To start with my experience: Keeping it simple has been one of the hardest things for me in my time in Addictive Eaters Anonymous. It isn’t just a slogan, it is a fundamental principle of the programme. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous constantly refers to the Twelve Steps as simple: a simple programme, simple steps, the simple kit of spiritual tools, to name just a few.

Living in my head didn’t work for me

All my life I’ve relied on my brain and have lived very much in my head. I spent a lot of time reading in my room alone as a child - with as much food as I could manage to sneak in there. I never had any self-worth until about the age of 11, when I had a great teacher who thought I was smart and encouraged me. I worked hard at school and did well, which carried on into high school and took me through university. My brain was always my main asset until food caught up with me and I just couldn’t focus anymore. I was either using all my mental energy not to eat, or I was completely occupied with getting and eating food.

Reaching surrender meant finding freedom from all substances

At that time I found a group of people who used to eat the way I did, but they weren’t doing it anymore. I was desperate and tried to do everything right - go to meetings, get a sponsor, follow a food plan, do service, try to do the steps. However, I couldn’t understand what surrender was - how do you surrender? It took me seven years to get to a day when I was absolutely beaten. My eating obsession had switched to exercise (another manifestation of the disease of addiction) and I couldn’t stop what I was doing. I got on my knees and said a simple prayer - “Can I just have this day sober?” For me, that meant sober and off everything: food, exercise, alcohol, drugs, any mind or mood-altering substances. I did not believe it would be possible for me as my best efforts had failed.

Simple, but not easy: Getting out of my head and into action

Although I didn’t realise it for a long time, at that moment, I had completed Steps One, Two and Three. I began to follow a very simple daily programme: Don’t pick up the first one (of anything), and try to help another addictive eater. It took some time for my mind to catch up - sometimes I thought that I still had to work it out myself. I was reminded: “Don’t navel-gaze!” “Don’t listen to your thinking!” At that time, what was going on in my head was so destructive that I held onto these simple messages for dear life.

Slowly the programme infiltrated my life and I began to experience the freedom it promises. I regained the ability to work. The damage I did to my husband and my family has been repaired. I had done so much damage physically, emotionally and mentally that I didn’t think I would be able to be a parent. I have had the gift of two children in recovery. Daily meditation has been an essential part of my programme for the last few years. As a result, the overwhelming fear that followed me everywhere has been replaced by a calm faith.

Remembering to live a daily programme

However, to keep all of this, I need constant reminders of the simple message of this programme. A good example occurred recently when my work started to get on top of me. I was in a new role, with a lot more responsibility. Without noticing, I had stopped meditating regularly. I thought I was too busy to do anything but the bare essentials in my service positions. The old terror came back and I was waking up in the night with the physical sensation of intense fear. I became aware that my conscious contact with God (which I like to think of as an Inner Power) had dropped off and that I wasn’t putting service first. It was simple: I just started doing what had worked before. In a short time, my work life had changed. External circumstances improved, but, more importantly, my ability to handle whatever the day brought had returned.

A simple solution to my problems

This experience confirmed for me the simple idea at the heart of this programme, that God can and will remove my problems: my eating problem, my thinking problem and my living problem. I just have to do my bit by practising a few simple things on a daily basis. I just have to keep my brilliant mind out of it and I get to live a simple, normal, wonderful life.

I have a recording of a talk that describes the last time the two co-founders of AA saw each other. Dr Bob said to Bill W.: “Don’t louse this thing up, Bill. Keep it simple”.

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